Bitter Orange or Bergamot - The Giving Tree Award Goes To Whom?

Common knowledge is not always correct, and the main reason this happens with perfumery’s building block is simple: the widespread use of synonyms and various traditional names for particular oils rather than using the more accurate and reliable Latin name of the species of origin.

It is therefore not so surprising that bit by bit, many perfume aficionado as well as amateur DIY perfumers were lead to believe that it is the bergamot (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia) tree that provides the perfumer with the generous palette of oils of bergamot, petitgrain, neroli and orange flower absolute.

This is, however, very wrong! The Giving Tree Medal should be awarded to the Bitter Orange Tree (Citrus aurantium var. amara). Ther names for the bitter orange tree are Seville orange, sour orange and bigarade orange.

This citrus subspecies is very resilient of disease and therefore is used for grafting other citrus subspecies (i.e. sweet oranges). It bears very sour and bitter fruit that is inedible for the most part (except for use in marmalades, because of its high pectin content).
Despite its very limited culinary use, bitter orange is held in high regards from an olfactory point of view, supplying the perfumer’s organ with a few priceless essences:

1) The unusually floral, sparkling bitter orange oil from the fruit’s peel, which has a dry, bitter aroma with sweet undertones. It has excellent uplifting qualities and blends beautifully with forals, showcasing their beauty like no other citrus does. This oil is expressed from the peel (though in some countries, after the expression the peel will be submitted to further extraction by steam distillation, which provides a very poor oil, often mixed with the expressed bitter orange oil to adulterate it).

2) The middle note of petitgrain bigarade, steam distilled from the leaves and twigs of the tree after they are pruned. This is a fresh, dry, aromatic, astringent green-leafy yet citrus note, most prized for its astringent presence in colognes and aftershaves. Other petitgrain essential oils are available in far lesser quantities, such as: petitgrain lemon, petitgrain combarva (from the kaffir lime tree) and petitgrain cedrat. The majority of petitgrain oils available though are from the bitter orange tree.

3) Orange flower absolute – produced by solvent extraction from the same flowers of bitter orange. This produces an essence that is a base to middle note, and is very deep, rich, honeyed quality. It shares some similarities to the more indolic jasmine absolute, yet with a very distinct citrus tartness. A complex building block that is valued for its balance between sweet and tart, floral and fresh. It is used in colognes and many men’s fragrances to add a warm yet fresh body to the fragrance. It is also used in many floral bouquets and oriental compositions, adding a sensual complexity and vivacity.

4) The heart to top note of neroli – this is the steam distilled essential oil from the flowers of the tree. Neroli essential oil is one of the most expensive essential oils. It was named after the princess of neroli, who favoured this scent like no other, and used it to scent herself and all her belongings. Neroli essential oil has unique calming effect on the mind, and was therefore used to reduce the anxiety of (virgin) brides (it is also traditionally used in bridal bouquets). Neroli has a sweet yet clean and dry ethereal quality, it’s very delicate and light. It is often used in colognes as well as floral composition to add a light floral lift.

5) Orange flower water is a by product of the neroli production: some of the aromatic elements of neroli are water soluble, and therefore stay in the water in the process fo distillation. The same process happened with the steam distillation of roses, which in turn provides us with rose water. Orange flower water is used mostly in food (to flavour sweets and baked goods, particularly in the Middle East, Mediterranean region and India) cosmetics (it makes a fantastic gentle tonic on its own, for oily skin or acne prone skin, yet without causing any harm or drying; it is also used as a base in lotions and other cosmetic preparations). It can be also used to top off various Eaux (Eau Fraiche, Eau de Cologne and Eau de Toilette), and can be used as a fragrance on its own in warm weather. Click here for an excellent recipe for the Basbousa cake – a semolina cake made with yoghurt and an orange flower water flvaoured honey-syrup.

6) Orange flower water absolute is a further process of the orange blossom water. It is similar to orange flower absolute, but is more sheer, honeyed and somehow smells watery as well. It is used as a heart note.

Bergamot orange, on the other hand, provides us only with the oil of the fruits’ peel, which has the disctinct bergamot aroma – green, floral, peculiar yet citrusy, and very heady. It is used extensively in flavouring the Earl Grey tea, and that’s how bergamot is most known to the public. It is also used in Italy and Greece in certain marmalades and candied, but this is not very common.

Images are courtesy of Wikipedia.

Flower of Flowers

ylang ylang flowers, originally uploaded by chotda.
Background and Origin of Ylang Ylang:
Ylang Ylang is an evergreen tropical tree, remotely related to the Magnolia family (they are both from the Magnoliales order), native to Indonesia and possibly also the Philipines. It grows wild in many tropical countries, and is cultivated for its essences mostly in Nossi-Be, the Comoro Islands, which produce about 80% of the worlds’ production Madagascar and to a lesser extend in the Phillipines, Indonesia, Zanzibar, Madagascar and a few of the French South Pacific islands.

The trees grow very fast, and therefore they are pruned in such a way that they start growing horizontally after they reach 7 feet in height. This way, the blossoms can be easily picked by hand. The flowers are green at first, and have little or no scent, and only start to develop their intense aroma when they are fully mature and have turned yellow in colour (some varieties are mauve or pinkish, but their aroma is considered inferior to that of the yellow variety).

The essence of Ylang Ylang is unusual amongst the florals, because it has an extremely high yield and therefore has a much lower price than any other floral essence. The flowers are most commonly steam distilled, and to a lesser extent are solvent extracted to produce an absolute. The trees bloom all year around, which further contributes to the relative abundance of this oil in comparison to other floral essences.

The scent of Ylang Ylang is considered an aphrodisiac. The flowers are spread on the bed of newly wed couples in Indonesia, and are used to adorn the hair and in lays with jasmine sambac flowers (Sampaquita) in the Philippines.

Aromatherapy uses of Ylang Ylang:
Ylang ylang is considered to have aphrodisiac, euphoric, anti-depressant, and stimulant effects on the nervous system. It is recommended to use for conditions such as depression frigidity, nervous tension, and is generally considered an elevating yet soothing aroma.
Hair: Rinsing the hair with Ylang Ylang encourages the hair’s growth
Skin: Acne, irritated & oily skin, insects bites and general skin care
Circulation: Helps to regulate high blood pressure

My Experience with Ylang Ylang:
Ylang Ylang essential oils vary tremendously in quality and character. A good quality Ylang Ylang essential oil should smell creamy, fruity, tenacious, and headily floral but in a very pleasant way. A poor quality ylang ylang can be so terrible it can give a bad reputation to the essence altogether. My first impression of Ylang Ylang was terrible, because I was first introduced to a very poor quality oil. Even though it was graded an “Extra”, it had an unbrearably unpleasant odour that was sharp, heady and almost peppery-dry. This is not how ylang yang is supposed to smell like! Once I explored different oils from different suppliers, I discovered that I actually like this essence a lot. Enough to make an entire perfume dedicated to it – a Ylang Ylang soliflore!

The Ylang Ylang essences I work with now are many and vary, but they all have a very distinguished, soft, exotic, sweet, full-bodied aroma. Some are more heady than others, but they are all so beautiful. Even though Ylang Ylang is yellow in colour, I consider it to be a "white floral". Yet, my association with it are quite colourful - tropical fruit such as mango and pitango, creamy coconut, lays of flowers, and the many colours of corals - orange, red and pink hues... Besides my new Ylang Ylang soliflore, Coralle, I also used fair amounts of Ylang Ylang in White Potion and Tamya, where it plays a key role in the composition (coupled with tuberose in the first and jasmine sambac in the latter); and lesser amounts in Viola (an excellent example of Ylang Ylang's bouqueting abilities) and Autumn. (a Chypre to which the Ylang Ylang adds a fruity nuance)

Ylang Ylang Essences and Grades:
Ylang Ylang essential oil is distilled into several different grades, which are collected in several stages during the distillation:

Ylang Ylang Extra – Contains almost half of the yield of Ylang Ylang. This grade is characterized by a tenacious, sweet, balsamic, fruity odour. It is the most similar to the absolute, but with a lighter, airy opening reminiscent of lilacs, lilies and linalol. Upon drydown it can even be a tad soapy.

Ylang Ylang 1 - I have yet to encounter this grade (or fraction) of ylang ylang as it is most commontly found blended with Ylang Ylang 2 to form the so-called "Ylang Ylang Complete" (see below).

Ylang Ylang 2 - I have encountered only one specimen of Ylang Ylang 2 from a reputable supplier that sells high quality and organically grown oils for aroma therapeutic purposes. This particular specimen is good enough to pass as an "extra" until you hit the dryout and some sharp, slightly green and almost horseradish-like notes appear.

Ylang Ylang 3 – The third and last portion of the distillation. This grade is suave and sweet and full bodied. It also reveals some of the more woody aspects of this complex raw material.

Ylang Ylang Complete – this is suppose to be a mixture of all the four other grades, or an unfractioned distillation of the ylang ylang in its entirety. However, nowadays a Ylang Ylang complete is most likely to be composed of the less desireable grades – Ylang Ylang 1 and Ylang Ylang 2. Because of the unpopularity of these two middle grades (1 & 2), there is, unfortunately, frequent adulteration of Ylang Ylang essential oils by the different grades – either “upgrading” or “downgrading” them (i.e.: mixing the Ylang Ylang 2 with Ylang Ylang 3, to lable it a “Ylang Ylang 3” and the Ylang Ylang 1 with the Ylang Ylang Extra to label it an “Extra”).

Ylang Ylang Concrete is produced by solvent extraction of the flowers. This is an unusual, hard to find floral concrete, and well worth it if you can find it. It is ever so smooth, creamy, sweet, tenacious and warm. It has a unique fruity and creamy nuances, reminiscent of bananas. Unlike most concretes, which are waxy or semi-solid due to the content of floral waxes, ylang ylang concrete is completely liquid, deep amber coloured, with what seems like little waxy particles floating in it.

Ylang Ylang Absolute is obtained by alcohol washing of the concrete. Again, the yield is extremely high (75-82% of the concrete). It is similar in appearance to the concrete, less the waxy particles, although I have encountered some specimens with an olive green colour. It is similar to the ylang ylang extra, only deeper, richer, sweeter, and with less “top notes”. It is more spicy and fruity, presenting the eugenol and cinnamyl acetate; with fruity notes suggesting banana and mango; and animalic-jasminey-like tonalities as well as creamy buttery qualities. But most notably, it feels like a perfume on its own right, with layers upon layers of silky depth and warmth.

Ylang Ylang's Role in Perfumery:
The importance of Ylang Ylang essences to perfumery is tremendous. It blends well with almost everything, and has a particular importance in almost all floral bouquets and compounds, including: hyacinth, lily of the valley, violet, sweet pea, narcissus, lily, gardenia and many, many more. It blends particularly well with jasmine, rose, vetiver, peru balsam, sandalwood, cassie, vanilla, citrus notes and rosewood. It also plays an important role in oriental compositions, lending a sweet, warm, soft bridge between the heavy bases and the spicy top notes. Ylang Ylang is often used in soap bases, and you may be interested to know it plays a key role in perfuming face powders!

Principal constituents of Ylang Ylang:Benzyl acetate (25%)p-cresyl methyl ether (20%) – which is what gives ylang ylang its distinguished fragrance, though on it’s own it does not smell pleasant at all.
methyl benzoate
methyl salicylate
cinnamyl acetate

Perfumes with Prominent Ylang Ylang Notes:
Mahora (now called Mayotte)
No. 5
(to name only a few...)
A few words about the meaning of the name – up until very recently, I knew it meant “Flower of Flowers”. I now read that in Tagalog it is derived from the words “Wilderness” and “Rare”. If any of you, my dear readers, who is from the Phillipines, can enlighten me with the true meaning of this fantastic flower of your country – I would be most grateful.

Bibliography (besides the sites that are linked to on this article):
Stephen Arctander, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural OriginJulia Lawless, Encyclopedia of Essential OilJulia Lawless, Aromatherapy and the MindPoucher's Perfumes, Cosmetics & Soaps Volumes 1 & 2

Acacia, Botanical Invasion and Leather

Mimosa, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been traveling back and forth between Tel Aviv and my little village up north. In one of our rides together, my brother Yotam pointed out to me the dangerous abundance of Mimosas across the country, and the fact that they are now considered invasive species in Israel. Mimosas were sparse and almost exotic way back when, and I remember specific spots along the road where they could be found. When the blooming season arrived, we would pick them for my step-grandmother, who admired them greatly. Now, however, they can be found everywhere, not just in parks and city gardens or along the roads. They can be found in the middle of fields or on hillsides, where they are gradually taking over and use up resources such as space and water, therefore endangering the survival of the indigenous plants.

Now, in springtime, the view of mimosa is glorious and abundant, particularly in full bloom. Otherwise, these bushes embody the mood of desert and negligent greenery scattered in random places where it leaves no impression whatsoever except, perhaps, the gloom of heat and burning sunrays.

Mimosa is from the family of Fabaceae, which also includes the legumes. And indeed it has seeds that are arranged in elongated pods. It belongs to the subfamily of Mimosoideae, which includes also plants, shrubs and trees, some of which perform rapid movement like the “touch me not” plant (Mimosa Pudica).

The Acacia (commonly known as Mimosa) is an invasive species in other parts of the world. Although it is native to Australia, it is cultivated in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, France, Italy, Algiria, Lebanon an India. I suspect it was brought Israel at the turn of the century, along with Eucalpytus trees which exude an equally gloomy appearance where they remain as a statue to lost wetlands or malaria-beaten swamps and marshes that my Zionist ancestors fought vigorously and turned into depressing little forests instead.

The particular mimosa that is widespread in Israel is the Blue Leaf Wattle (Acacia cyanophylla). It is not extremely fragrant like the Acacia decurrens or the Acacia farnesiana (Cassie). But it does have a light, floral powdery sweet aroma wafting about it without making too much effort to leave an impression. I noticed that the scent is more apparent when smelled from distance, rather than sticking your nostrils amongst the pollen-laden wands decorated with the little yellow pompoms.

Mimosa has many uses in the leather industry. The bark as well as the pods are rich in tannins, and therefore make an excellent agent for preserving and tanning the leather. By way of fortune, I had the honour to get some information about the uses of mimosa from Stu Miller, a life long leather tanner and an expert in the field who consulted to leather tanneries across the world. mimosa bark. Mr. Miller’s daughter is known to some of you as Loukumi in Basenotes or Elizabeada in Perfume of Life forum. When she tried my mimosa soliflore, Les Nuages de Joie Jaune, she immediately recognized a familiar scent from her father’s tannery. She was intrigued and assisted me in finding out a little more about the use of mimosa in modern tanning industry, which, surprisingly, still uses many natural and locally grown materials in the tanning process. For instance: Cabracho from Argentina, chestnut extract, and sumac which used to come from Albania but is pretty rare today (sumac, in Hebrew, is called “Og Haburskaim”, which means “Plant of the Leather Tanners”, and grows wild in the mountains of Jerusalem), mangrove. Many tanneries use plants that are rich in tannin that are grown locally, for instance - some kinds of Eucalyptus in Australia, and unknown plants in South America, that are “used to tan fluffy curly white sheep skins that we sometimes see here”.

Mr. Miller’s tannery imported powdered mimosa pods from plantations in Africa and Brazil, which had 40-50% tannin. It was particularly used for tanning saddle leather, which tanned and dyed entirely with vegetable substances. At times, iron is added to mimosa powder to create a black dye: the tannin reacts to the iron and turns black. When asked if the mimosa pods had any smell, Mr. Miller said they just smelled like wood. He suggested that the scent his daughter smelled was a solvent – either butyl acetate (which smells a bit like bananas and is commonly used in the flavouring industry, particularly to create the scent of Granny Smith apples), or butyl alcohol.

The two species of mimosa that are of particular interest from perfumery as well as aromatherapy aspects are commonly called Cassie and Mimosa. Mimosa is the Acacia decurrens (Green Wattle) species. It is a middle to top note, with a scent that is at once watery, powdery, only slightly flowery and woody and very much cucumber-like. The absolute is a thick substance that tends to solidify once exposed to air and become brittle. This absolute is high in Palmic aldehyde, anisic acid, enanthic acid, acetic acid, phenols.
Because of its antiseptic and astringent properties, mimosa in aromatherapy, it is used as a muscle relaxant, skin conditioner, and for skincare of oily and sensitive skin. It also assists in nervous tension, anxiety, stress and insomnia.
Mimosa is mostly grown in Australia, Africa, France, Italy (based on HerbBee).

Acacia Farnesiana, AKA Sweet Acacia or Cassie absolute, is an unusual floral note: it is one of the most rare floral base notes. It has a far more intense, wet quality to it than the mimosa absolute has. It smells green, woody, wet, similar somewhat to violet leaf, yet floral with an intensity that is quite similar to that of jasmine. It is a valuable fixative in floral compositions.
According to the HerbBee, Cassie absolute contains Benzyl alcohol, methyl salicylate, farnesol, geraniol, linalool.
It is considered anti-rheumatic, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, aphrodisiac, balsamic, and can be also be an insecticide.
In aromatherapy, it is used for rheumatism, dry skin, sensitive skin, increases sexual desire, depression, nervous exhaustion, stress. It is also used in the flavour industry. Cassie is mostly grown in France, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria and India.

Coming up next: reviews of mimosa perfumes.

Licorice Notes

Happy Spooky Halloween!

Today will be dedicated to licorice notes – the notes used to flavour the gooey chewy sticky black candy that is of the signature flavours of this holiday. Licorice notes are strange. They are usually either loved or loathed. Very few people have intermediate feelings about them. The peculiar scent of licorice notes is a reconciliation of contrasts: spicy warmth and minty chill; rough dryness with smooth, mouthwatering sweetness. Perhaps it is the sweetness of licorice that is the most peculiar. I used to chew licorice root as a little girl, and it was a completely sugar-free candy, yet felt very sweet. I am saying “felt” rather than “tasted” because I think the licorice aromas cheat on the senses to create an impression of a sweet taste that is not really there.

Licorice root is not the only source for licorice sorcery. In fact, most licorice candies are flavoured with oils of aniseed, star anise and fennel. Anise is the sweetest of all three, and feels warm and diffusive. Its ability to mask odour only adds to its mystique. Star Anise is a tad more dry, clean and spicy in feel. Sweet Fennel is sweet indeed, with a hint of green. Tarragon is another plant with a licorice aroma, only greener and herbal, with a sense of tangy freshness. Tarragon absolute is a thick, syrupy version of tarragon, accentuating the licorice-candy qualities of this herb.

Here are a few perfumes for the licorice lovers amongst us. These may not mask your body odour when you go fishing or ghost busting, but they sure are olfactory stunners thanks to the mystical presence of licorice notes.

Apres l’Ondee might have been one of the very first scents to use aniseed note “out of the box” and in an unusual context. Here, the obscure quality of anise complements the melancholy of violet and orris.

L’Heure Bleue further expanded on this theme, and here the aniseed note is paired with the almost-gourmand almondy notes of heliotrope, sweet violet, carnation and woods.

Lolita Lempica (Au Masculine) makes a definite gourmand statement that is once again paired with violet. Vanilla and rum add sweetness, and woods and cistus add an underlining pine-like masculinity that is maintained through out the composition. The feminine version is just as high on licorice and anise, again paired with violet, only with a slightly different base (vanilla, tonka, musk and vetiver).

Chinatown takes licorice notes to yet an even more extreme sweetness, as star anise and fennel do in the infamous Five Spice. Like a Five Spice salt, Chinatown creates a strange, sweet and warm sensation, balanced by exaggeration as it is paired with even sweeter white florals and peach juice, and a counterpoint of patchouli and vetiver.

Eau de Reglisse, Caron’s most recent addition to their outstanding collection, takes a different route. Here licorice is taken as it is – the dry root – and infused into a refreshing lemonade drink along with litsea cubeba. The licorice is subtle and is revealed once the sparkling lemon notes of litsea have subsided. It is more like chewing licorice roots than the gooey candy. Eau de Reglisse is an interesting eau, while being cool and refreshing still retains the woody warmth of licorice twigs.

More perfumes with licorice notes:
Anice (Etro)
Anisia Bella (Guerlain)
Jean-Paul Gautier Classique (aniseed top note)
Piper Nigrum (Lorenzo Villoresi)
Salvatore Ferragamo for men
Rive Gauche pour homme
Silver Rain
Black Licorice
And two of my Zodiac perfumes: Sagittarius and Cancer


A fun activity that is easy to make. Young children will love making it - and using this fragrantly sweet lip treat.

4 Tbs. almond oil
2.5 Tbs. coconut oil
3 Tbs. beeswax (unbleached), grated
1.5 Tbs. dark chocolate (at least 85%), preferably unsweetened
1 tsp. honey
1 Capsule Vitamin E
10 drops aniseed oil
10 drop sweet orange oil
(or any mixture of these two oils)

Measure and mix all the ingredients except for the essential oils and vitamin E.
In a Bain Marie (double boiler), melt them all down over low-medium heat.
Once all the ingredients have melted, remove from heat and let it slightly cool off.
Add the essential oils and vitamin E, and pour immediatley into containers. Make sure the consistency is neither too liquid nor too hard to touch and use.
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